Should you get your dog a harness?

If your dog pulls on the leash no matter what you do, consider getting him a harness. It’s safer for him, and easier on your arm. Here’s what to look for.

Dogs pull on their leashes for many reasons. The main one is that tugging, towing, hauling and pulling – while we hang on for dear life – gets them where they want to go. Despite our best efforts, many dogs are stronger than our efforts to restrain them, which means pulling usually works for them no matter what we try. But dogs are supposed to be “man’s best friend”, not “man’s road to shoulder pain”. So what’s the solution?

First, realize that following your dog as he heads to the nearest hydrant or bush actually rewards him for dragging you to the source of his desire. The problem is that most people worry about their dogs choking themselves if they refuse to comply with the pulling. Their concern is justified, considering the pressure such pulling puts on the dog’s airway. The canine trachea and esophagus aren’t meant to endure that kind of stress. Not that the danger will stop the dog from doing it anyway, of course!

With patience and time, many dogs can be trained not to pull. But others, like Kelly’s, seem to forget all their training once they’re out on the leash and distracted by all the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors. If your dog is one of these, consider purchasing him a harness. The idea is to restrain him safely, but in a way that doesn’t harm his neck and throat. Before heading to the nearest pet supply store, read the following list of pointers.

Shopping tips

• Keep in mind that not all harnesses are made the same and therefore don’t serve the same purpose. The primary use of any harness must be taken into consideration when choosing a product. Some are created for training purposes only, while others are for walking.

harness• Either measure your dog or take him shopping with you. The right fit is essential to the overall function of the harness, as well as your dog’s’comfort.

• Buy a high quality product made from durable materials. It’ll cost more, but it’s well worth the investment.

• Most importantly, look for a harness that rests low on the dog’s chest, as opposed to high on his neck. Some products are especially designed so the pressure point is evenly spaced across the dog’s chest between his forelimbs. This eliminates the damaging effects of stress around the neck. “Keep in mind the delicate structure of the dog’s neck, and select a harness that would go over his shoulders and across his chest without restricting his breathing should he tend to pull,” says Andy Street of Buddy Belt.

• Consider what the harness is made from. Nylon is best for puppies or small dogs but can cut into a bigger, stronger dog if the strips are too thin. While you’ll pay more for leather and suede, these materials will mold and conform to your dog’s body over time and create a shoe-like fit.

A harness may not stop your dog from pulling, but it gives you a significantly improved sense of control, and minimizes or eliminates the risk of damage to his airway and esophagus. That’s what veterinarians and trainers agree is most important – having safe control over a pulling dog without worrying that he’ll choke if you don’t give in to his pulling.

Kelly tried a harness on her dog and while it took him a little time to get used to it, her investment has made their daily walks a lot easier on both of them. “He still pulls, but it doesn’t make him gasp and gag, and my arm and shoulder don’t hurt anymore!”


Julie Dunford is passionate about holistic animal health, new training tactics, and naturalistic views on animal care. She spends as much time as possible outdoors with her partner and her French bulldog, enjoying nature in any season.